WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will introduce a bill Tuesday that would impose jail time for pharmaceutical executives whose companies engage in manipulative practices when marketing opioids.

The legislation would impose a 10-year minimum prison sentence and fines equal to an executive’s compensation package if the individual’s company is found to have illegally contributed to the opioid crisis. It would also impose an additional fine on those companies of $7.8 billion — one-tenth the annual cost of the crisis, per a 2016 estimate.

The bill outlined a number of mechanisms by which the Department of Health and Human Services could demonstrate such liability, including by mandating written justifications for pill orders that seem medically unreasonable. And the legislation would establish an opioid reimbursement fund, to be administered by HHS, that would collect the fines levied under the new law and distribute them to other federal departments.


The bill would also prohibit companies from direct marketing of opioid products without adequate warning of their addictive properties and establish a reimbursement fund that would collect revenues from the penalties imposed.

In many cases, the bill’s proposals take aim at the most-cited perceived misdeeds of opioid makers and distributors.

Purdue Pharma, which manufactures the opioid painkiller OxyContin, announced in February it would no longer directly market the drug to doctors, a major shift for the company that has shouldered an increasing share of the blame for the national crisis.

McKesson, a drug distributor, is said to have shipped 5 million opioid pills to a West Virginia town with 400 residents over a two-year span.

Those two companies are among a larger group of manufacturers and distributors being sued in a consolidated case in an Ohio federal court. The Department of Justice said earlier this month it planned to file an amicus brief in the case.

Sanders’ new effort is the latest in a spate of opioids-related bills, but takes aim at pharmaceutical companies more explicitly than others. Some version of an opioids-related bill is seen as the last major legislation likely to be pursued on Capitol Hill prior to midterm elections in November.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he hopes to bring a legislative package to a vote by Memorial Day.

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  • I hope Bernie Sanders will look at what is happening in the chronic pain community and to elderly medicaid patients now in horrible pain. They are in pain and innocent and were forced off of their effective medications that they once were able to function on. Illegal opioids are and have been causing the opioid crises. The department of HHS is looking back at the data. The CDC said it inflated the numbers of prescription opioid deaths. Illegal flow of opioids, fentanyl and heroin is the problem. Yes some overdose and it does happen tragically, but rarely to those who take them as directed and are under the care of a specialist. In fact less than 2% of chronic pain patients become addicted to their medications, but millions have lost access to pain control and have nothing. An overzealous government actions without looking at the real data is causing people in pain to commit suicide. And I am not backed by any pharmacy. I want our country to address the Addiction Crises, and stop going after real patients and the elderly who are suffering in pain with no relief because they went after the wrong demographic group. Patients who pass all of their invasive urine tests and pill counts,, still get under treated for their illnesses, then the government comes in and says no more opioid coverage. They are rallying online, but cannot march. They are sick and the forgotten, caught in a war on opioids that they are innocent victims in. One woman wrote she listened to her daughter scream every night and telling her every single day, “I don’t want to live”. So many pain patients now have this exit plan it is around 70% or even more so estimate who are now in pain from the war on people with painful illnesses who need prescription opioids as they are the only thing that works. I know how painful losing someone to addiction is, but I would not try to tell my neighbor he could not have a beer after work because my father died from alcoholism. And many more die from alcohol than legal prescriptions.

  • I think this is a great attempt at curbing the opioid problem. However, a a Vermonter , and a widower of someone who overdosed, I feel Bernie is neglecting the fact that our Vermont congressman who was a co sponsor of of that controversial legislation called the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act. This law was backed by , heavily by the nations largest drug distribution firms and pharmacy chains. Vermonts Congressman Welch accepted $79,000 in campaign contributions from companies that backed the measure. And during the 3 years the legislation was pending Welch bought and sold between $215,000 and $550,000 in Rite Aid Stock, as proof by disclosure reports. And despite others running in the Vermont congressional race who are refusing to take PAC money including a DR Dan Freilich who has been out talking about this conflict of interest and Bernie remains silent. Welch wont even come out and debate his opponent. I know Bernie is a senator but he is running as a Democrat in Vermont and with this new legislation he is purposing maybe he should take a look at who in his own state such as congressmen are receiving such kickbacks.

  • Thank you for writing this piece. I think when big pharma lied about the fact that these pills were highly addicting – this makes them culpable. I also wish the advertising on our TV of any pharmaceutical was illegal.

  • So many people believe they know what they are talking about, yet know absolutely nothing. They read statements from cpps and think it’s from reps, just because we’ve been persecuted to the point we’ve had to educate ourselves to defend our medical rights. Maybe if people would spend less time listening to the media and admittedly wrong data from the CDC, and more time actually researching actual facts before commenting, the real crisis of medical genocide by our government would finally stop. Or if you don’t want to do that, how about not commenting and stop spreading more PROPaganda. Too many are already suffering. Including cancer patients, veterans, elderly, and pallative/hospice care patients.

  • I pray this goes through. As a mom who lost her 25 year old son January 14,2018. To this epidemic.
    Trying to any kind of justice with this is extremely rare. So many families and young lives taking way to soon. I also have a question I hope to finally get an answer to.
    Why do we have non narcotic pain medication????! Personally I NEVER have heard nor known anyone who leaves dr. Or hospital with mom narcotic. Imagine my son passes as many have. My daughter had a procedure done on her wisdom teeth. She was sent home 18 years old witg ibeprophin and months SUPPLY OF PERCOCET!!!! Truly I can’t say I was shocked. But as we speak of changing laws and possibly finding ways for justice and hear about possible laws. They are STILL passing this out. Here ,, 30 day supply of narcotics. Or ibuprofen???? Are you kidding me.
    I pray every single day for some kind of justice. Changes. !!!!! This is wiping out generation. If there was a food that was found no good. Immediately removed !!
    ALL DO RESPECT… talk talk talk !!!
    I’m disgusted !!! When ? And why wait. Why isn’t this state of emergency dealt with the way it is sorry in 911.. we went to war. I’m comparing this simply because those wonderful people who died
    It’s disturbing to me. I don’t want war. But I do ???? War against the pharmaceutical companies.. maybe something more done so Mexico 🇲🇽 cannot get this through as they do. I’ve been told they don’t have the men to go through all cars coming in with this poison.
    Impossible to get it all. I think MORE MAN POWER WOULD AT LEAST LET THEM KNOW !! We are going to stand up for all the deaths and families people they are destroying. Again it’s a comparison. But why I’m United States 🇺🇸 of America is this taking so long. Why do we have to wait.
    The money … and politics aside Let’s put some money into this it shouldn’t have to wait. So many families burying KIDS And were to wait for decision. What is there to think about ???? Let’s get it done. Thank you for allowing me to speak my mind. We’ve lost so many lives to war. ! Well as far as I can see. This is or has wiped out more people than in the Vietnam war !!!! What do we stand for
    I’m hurting and millions are …. it would make sense if all the talk stopped. About maybe this. And this law maybe. We deserve some justice.

  • It is roughly the 80/20 rule with 80% responsible and 20% abusing the system whether talking about the patient, family, doc, pharma, drug rehab owners and government.
    Each of the 80% good still have hurdles. A patient may lie to get the pain med they truly believe they need. Truth is, there is almost no non-narcotic option for short term pain. A doc has only so much time in a day, arguing with someone who insists they cannot work due to pain and rates the care very low if they are addicted or if non-narcotic doesn’t work. Some pharma are ok, yet like the CEO who raised epi for seizures from$13 a dose to $750 a dose. A drug rehab owner may be great, may just want the huge dollars for inpatient care when an addict could stay at home if there is a supportive family. Something definitely changed on large scale a few years ago. Greed I guess. Abusers need punished, it’s just 20% or so most likely.
    “Throw money at it” and jump into the fray is a way to get elected for even some good people because it is easier.

    • Teri,
      The 80/20 rule has its limits and you could whittle those numbers themselves down using the rule against itself, if you were so inclined. The actual numbers of “docs” (that’s the good ol’ boy term, you know) who “do no harm” is actually more like 20/80. Unless, of course, you believe that only 20 percent of physicians are killing 440,000 human beings every single year in the United States alone; and then, in addition, disabling between 4.5 and 9 million human beings as well. Still talking about the U.S. That’s a lot of people dying by a very few hands. Don’t be deceived by the medical profession’s “poor ol’ me” propaganda. They kill 1200 people a day, every day, 365 days a year. Not just by drugs; not even mostly by drugs. By stupid preventable errors in judgment. Illogical decisions due to their own internal, cognitive distortions. There are studies that prove it. The Medical Profession is chaotic. Physicians lie. They lie right to your face. They lie in the Medical Record. They lie to the Medical Licensing Board. Hell, the Medical Licensing Board lies to you, they lie to the dead patient’s family, they lie to the public. The whole system is pathetic. Believe me or not, it doesn’t matter. Check out the data yourself.

  • Perhaps congress will pass a bill to impose jail time on alcohol manufacturing companies since alcohol contributes to over 125,000 deaths annually in this country. Oh, and what about the cigarette manufacturing companies? Cigarettes contribute to over 480,000 deaths each year in this country alone. (BTW 64,000 is the number attributed to overdose deaths from all drugs – legal and illicit).

    One of these days some of you anti-opiate zealots may need pain relief, as each human is just a second away from becoming the victim of a car accident which renders them physically disabled and in severe, inoperable pain that will plague them for the rest of their painful lives and can only be adequately relieved (reduced to a tolerable level) through opioid-based medication.

    The new victim may also be one of the estimated 10% whose bodies are unable to absorb and metabolize opioid-based medication, as it depends on specific liver enzymes to metabolize this type of medication “normally.” I probably should mention that the estimated 10% does not include those whose bodies are unable to properly absorb opioid-based medication due to GI disorders, past gastric-bypass surgeries, or autoimmune disorders (ex: diabetes, thyroid disorder).

    • You must be a pharmaceutical rep or something. No one is saying we shouldn’t have opioids for people that desperately need them, but they are very obviously over-prescribed. The vast majority of people taking them don’t NEED them they are abusing them, or selling them to friends. You’re either naive or willfully ignorant. Also, alcohol and cigarettes are LEGAL, and are regulated at the state level, so that’s a completely worthless argument.

    • No, David, I’m someone who watched my elderly dad with numerous painful, life-threatening diseases (including a major infection he carried within his body for over 30 years due to a botched major surgery he had to undergo due to the fact that oxygen and blood was cut off from the bones causing the bones to die – quite painful btw – which forced him to be hospitalized for sepsis many times throughout his life) be denied adequate pain relief while hospitalized three weeks prior to his death and one week prior to being placed on hospice. (He passed away in Feb. 2015). Why? According to the nurse, the attending hospitalist was afraid he’d “become addicted.” We’re talking about an elderly man on oxygen 24/7 and confined to a wheelchair 24/7 with numerous, well-known painful, progressive, incurable disorders.

      The simple fact is people with conditions that cause them constant severe pain are being denied relief. Many are being taken off the medication that has given them some semblance of a life which would otherwise be filled with constant physical agony, medication they’ve taken responsibly for many years – and in my dad’s case – over 30 years (same dose, same amount). He was one of the millions who has been and are now being punished for the actions of a few.

      Fact – many studies have shown very low addiction rates for those within the chronic pain community who rely on opioid-based medication – Rates anywhere from less than 1% up to 8%. Fact – over 90% of addictions begin in the pre-teen and teen years, which is – for most – many years prior to ever needing a legitimate prescription for an injury or disease. (This is according to numerous studies, including those funded by the government). Fact – most addicts begin experimenting with substances by binging on alcohol as young teens.

      Fact – the gateway theory is just that – a theory. If it’s ever proven to be true, alcohol would be the gateway substance. Fact – the same government telling you that opioid-based medication is the “gateway” to harder drug abuse is the same government who – not too long ago – was pointing their greedy little fingers at mj as being the “gateway” to harder drug abuse. Fact – the majority of those who develop a true addiction to opioid-based medication (and/or heroin) obtained their pills by illegal means (stealing from family members or others’ medicine cabinets, buying them off the streets, friends sharing with each other, etc). This is how the majority of those who took part in the “4 out of 5 heroin addicts began with opioid-based medication” study developed an addiction.

      Fact – Addiction usually arises from the MISUSE and ABUSE of opioid-based medication, particularly when it’s taken for recreational purposes as opposed to legitimate medicinal purposes. Fact – A current study has shown that over 33% of heroin addicts began abusing heroin prior to misusing opioid-based medication. Fact – Where there are humans, there will be a minority who will develop addictions to many substances and even activities. Fact – heroin and an illicit strain of fentanyl was widely abused in the 70’s and very early 80’s in both the US and Europe. (Needle Park, anyone? China White?) This was many years prior to doctors started treating non-terminal diseases/conditions and injuries with opioid-based medication and many years prior to the FDA approval of Fentanyl Citrate (the one and ONLY government-approved form of fentanyl that is NOT on our streets) for palliative care within the home.

      Fact – Physical dependence and addiction are not the same. Physical dependence can happen without the presence of addiction while addiction can happen without the presence of physical dependence. Fact – the same government demonizing medication which helps relieve pain and suffering is the same government which profits from the sale of two substances that have NO legitimate medicinal purposes and contributes to approximately 600,000 deaths in the US each year (alcohol and tobacco). Over a period of approximately 15 years, opioid-based medications have contributed to a little more than 200,000 deaths (most due to misuse). Those two regulated, legal substances which our government profits from contribute to three times as many deaths each YEAR.

      Fact – History has shown over and over and over again that excessive restrictions and/or complete banning of substances does nothing to affect the rates of substance abuse and addiction. In regards to tight restrictions on medication, these laws only harm those who have a legitimate need for said medication. They do not prevent one from becoming an addict nor do they save any lives afflicted with addiction. Fact – There are some incurable diseases, syndromes and inoperable injuries known to produce pain even more severe than many forms of cancer (including its treatments) (ex: trigeminal neuralgia and CRPS – both known as the “suicide disease” due to the high rates of suicides of those who suffer from one of the two syndromes.)

      Fact – Many of these with the conditions I speak of are unable to find any relief in other alternative treatments, including mmj and kratom (though I agree these need to be legal for both recreational and medicinal purposes). Fact – the majority of overdoses happen because large amounts of opioid-based pills are ingested with other potentially dangerous substances, including alcohol. Fact – Each person absorbs and metabolizes opioid-based medication differently. (The same is true for about 50% of the prescription medication on the market).

      Fact – An estimated 10% of the population was born without the liver enzymes needed to metabolize this type of medication. That’s not counting the fact that others with autoimmune disorders (diabetes, thyroid conditions), past gastric-bypass surgeries and/or GI disorders often have issues with absorbing opioid-based medication. Both sets of people will often need a much larger dose of said medication to obtain the same relief as those who require smaller (and more “normal”) amounts of said medication.

      Fact – We’ve had an enormous increase of suicides within our chronic pain community from those who were stripped of their medication through no fault of their own. Fact – Constant, ongoing pain that will plague a person for the rest of their life can make even the “toughest” person take their own lives or seek relief in the form of alcohol and/or street drugs with pain-relieving properties. Fact – Many cancer patients, former amputees, veterans with excrutiating pain, and our elderly are now having major issues with accessing pain-relief. (These are patients who have tried many different alternatives, including mmj and kratom). Fact – Doctors – including pain management doctors and oncologists – are now too terrified of Big Brother to treat their patients’ severe, ongoing pain, as many have now adopted “no opioid prescribing” policies.

      Fact – Opioid-based medication is actually quite safe when taken for legitimate medicinal reasons and by following directions. Most overdoses occur when directions are ignored and the medicine is taken for recreational reasons as opposed to medical reasons. (Laugh all you want, but millions of humans have taken these medications without overdosing). Fact – The abused substance is merely the main symptom of a very complex disease/disorder known as addiction. Most addicts are self-medicating due to underlying mental health illnesses (depression, ADD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders) and/or past traumas, abuse, poverty, being raised in dysfunctional families during childhood, etc. These people are ill and need help.

      Fact – Cutting the supply, excessively restricting, and banning substances that can be “potentially abused” does nothing to help an addiction. In regards to the excessive restricting of medications, these regulations can and will harm those with legitimate need for said medications. In fact, due to the DEA cutbacks, which forces manufacturing companies to reduce the amount of opioid-based medication they produce each year, within the last two years, there are major shortages of these medications within many hospitals and pharmacies. Hospice nurses have been noticing this shortage (and speaking out) within the past few years.

      Fact – Watching a loved one suffer from ongoing severe pain, especially when they are no longer able to attend important events like their only grandson’s high school graduation and their youngest daughter’s wedding, both of which took place less than a 5 minutes drive from their house, is not only frustrating but also heartbreaking. Watching a loved one physically and mentally decline within a short period of time after they’ve been stripped of the medication that once allowed them to do things that we all take for granted (getting out of bed, walking a short distance with the aid of a cane or walker, bathing themselves, etc) – solely because of the actions of a few others – leaving them in severe pain is not only disturbing but also quite traumatic.

      Fact – Any government which restricts a class of medication proven to reduce many forms of severe pain so excessively that it’s forcing many of these humans in severe pain to find their relief in the form of suicide and/or ingesting dangerous, unregulated street substances with pain-relieving properties is not only despicable but also a form of passive genocide. We have safe, regulated medication, along with natural yet often banned botanicals, which can help relieve severe pain, yet our government has passed such restrictive laws that many people with chronic, incurable, inoperable, severely painful diseases and injuries – including those with severe chronic pain due to cancer and its various treatments – are now unable to access this medication and/or natural botanicals simply because a minority of humans misuse these substances.

      Fact – Our government can assist in providing a solid, more accessible, more affordable mental health system across this country, including various compassionate treatments for those afflicted with addiction, without forcing those in severe pain to suffer needlessly due to excessive regulations on the prescribing of opioid-based medication (and natural botanicals). Our suicide rates, overdose death rates, and alcohol-related death rates have all skyrocketed within the past couple of years while our prescribing rates have greatly fallen. While I would never wish addiction or the agony of losing a child due to addiction, I would also never wish the severe, ongoing pain that will plague some humans for the rest of their lives or the agony of losing a loved one to suicide due to untreated and undertreated chronic pain, which can literally suck the very life and soul out of the one who suffers.

  • Perdue caused this crisis by insisting, despite all evidence, that Oxycontin was a 12 hour pain pill. They his evidence of how this could cause addiction, they created misleading and outright false materials for their reps to push on to doctors, they pursued an aggressive tactic of enforcing the 12 hour dosage through their reps, and all for profits and maintenance of their patents. Previous governments allowed this to happen; Eric Holder intervened on their behalf during criminal cases, the person who approved their drug patents went to work for them, and when they kept their stranglehold on time release opioids by making ‘tamper resistant’ pills the FDA forced that formulation on every other company.

    This is the 3rd opiate crisis america has had, the 2nd heroin one, and by far the most deadly. And each and every death is on the hands of Purdue. Death is too good for them, and any of their spineless defenders.

  • Educated or not, if addictive , the patient should be informed, and directed to a less harmful medicine or the treatment should include detoxification. I do no buy in the idea of witch hunt. An extension of the issue, I don’t think a country must owe trillions, when so many billionaires are underpaying taxes, which was lowered from 92% before 1963 -when the country owed nothing- to meager% today, adding to deficit. Therefore the penalty will compensate for said deficit.At least that!

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